Real Salt Lake has a lot of defenders, and as a result, they've got a lot of flexibility with personnel. But the defense has come under fire in recent weeks for a series of poor performances - is it for good reason?
My argument trends toward the midfield shouldering a portion of that blame, but certainly questions should be asked about the defense. Individually, how have they performed? Are they up to snuff? As we go through each defender, we've got some questions we can think about and try to address.
- Is our defensive line good enough to last out the season, even if we sustain a significant injury?
- Can our defense continue to improve as the season progresses?
- What sort of options should we be looking at, if we're to look at any?
Chris Schuler has been as good as ever, and if we're to try to organize a depth chart, he's right at the very top. The only issue, really, is physical, but it's starting to look like we're over the worst of that. The towering center back has good ball control, measured passing, a great eye for stepping up to intercept a pass, and has generally been one of the best players week-in, week-out.
Nat Borchers is still one of the better center backs in the league, but he's coming in a clear second to Chris Schuler. What he lacks in raw physical ability, he makes up for with a good read of the game. He's never really been quick, but his ability to angle his runs to block off attackers is important to our play. He's not been great on set pieces, but so few on this team have been - it's a team issue if there ever was one.
Carlos Salcedo joins the list around the third tier, and he's played roles here and there. He's physical, good on the ball, and good in the air, but his inexperience sometimes puts him in difficult positions. That's hurt us a few times, but he's not the only player to have done that.
Aaron Maund is also in this third tier, and again, it's his inexperience that betrays him. He's got great qualities - fast, physical, good in the air, you name it - but he's prone to getting caught out.
Kwame Watson-Siriboe is the most experienced player in the third tier, and it's been injuries keeping him out. Could he still have a role to play with this side? Time will tell. He's been back to the bench, but he's yet to play in 2014.
Justen Glad can play a number of positions, including center back. He's really very young, and I wouldn't expect to see him here unless something goes seriously wrong.
Tony Beltran is a clear first pick, and his play is still improving. This has probably been his best season in his career so far, even if his crossing is sometimes a bit wayward. His build-up play on the right side is a huge piece of how we play.
Rich Balchan has jumped into this second spot, but it's only when he's fit that he'll play there. This has proved an issue over the last year. With part of that issue owing to bad luck, should we have long-term concerns about his career? He's clearly a very good full back.
Chris Wingert sits in this third spot as an as-needed replacement defensively. He's needed over on the left side, though, so seeing him here is a rare thing.
Justen Glad is also at the bottom of the list here, again for his youth. He's going to be a great player, but let's give him time.
Chris Wingert owns this position. He's a bit more defensive minded that his right-sided foil, Tony Beltran, but that fact allows us to position our play in regard to that. He's still prone to the occasional bluster, but I think that's just part of being a full back.
Abdoulie Mansally may be one of the more polarizing players on our team. He provides a great attacking threat from the left back spot, and he has great recovery speed. But he's error-prone, and he's going to get caught of position in basically every match he plays. That doesn't work so well tactically with an attacking player on the right side.
Rich Balchan is here, too. He's a good full back capable of playing on both sides. Now, if we can just get him healed up...
Tony Beltran can also play here in a pinch. He's a bit like Chris Wingert in that regard.
Justen Glad? Yeah, he could play here, too.